2022 at the box office was … rocky. You of course had your Marvel movie successes, not-so-surprising horror hits, and the world-dominating force that was "Top Gun: Maverick," but if you were not squarely within the genre film landscape, it was a struggle to get a ton of butts in seats. Some were able to prevail, such as the Julia Roberts and George Clooney-led romantic comedy "Ticket to Paradise" or Channing Tatum's directorial debut "Dog," but the pickings were slim if you weren't delivering scares, action, or multiverses.
Some equate how well a film performs at the box office with its quality. If nobody went to go see it, it must not be very good, right? Obviously, that couldn't be further from the truth. Why these movies don't get the audience they should comes down to an innumerable amount of factors: marketing, the pandemic, competing with streaming, price, etc. I understand few people are like me and will go see just about anything in a theater because it's fun to go to the movies. That used to be a fairly common way to approach moviegoing, but we are a dying breed.
Consequently, a lot of people missed out on a lot of great films in 2022, including many of my favorites of the year. Here are a dozen pictures that didn't get nearly as many people to head out to the cinemas as they should have. You may not be able to see them on the big screen now, but that doesn't mean they should be ignored entirely.
If I were to pick an actor who won 2022, it would be Colin Farrell. Principally, he had "The Banshees of Inisherin," his latest collaboration with writer/director Martin McDonagh, for which he won the Best Actor prize at the Venice Film Festival. It's a tender, funny, and beautiful performance that is perhaps the best of the actor's career. On the other end of the spectrum, he played The Penguin in Matt Reeves' "The Batman," done up in mountains of prosthetics and delivers a tremendous amount of life and humor into a picture that desperately needed it.
The same weekend "The Batman" was released in theaters, Farrell appeared in a movie that couldn't be more far afield from that picture. That was Kogonada's sophomore feature "After Yang," which made a truly depressing $46,872 at the domestic box office. Granted, A24 basically punted on this one entirely and quietly put it on Showtime, which is such a shame because it is one of the most beautiful films of 2022. And when I say beautiful, I mean it in every sense of the word. On a visual level, with its ever-changing aspect ratios and a production design that brings together elements of so many different cultures, "After Yang" presents a vision of the future that feels inventive without being affected and lived-in without feeling run down. The film explores memory, humanity, emotion, history, and identity in ways you wouldn't ever expect, turning discussions about tea into some of the most emotionally affecting things you'll experience cinematically all year. Almost more than any film this year, "After Yang" did not gets its due.
Plus, it has what is, without question, the greatest opening credits sequence of the year.
What do you know? Another A24 distributed movie that begins with "After." To be fair, this film did significantly better than "After Yang" at the box office, but Charlotte Wells' debut feature "Aftersun," which has picked up a good number of prizes this year, still barely hovering around $1 million domestically and couldn't make it to 100 screens across the country. I believe this to be a case of A24 not realizing what they had on their hands here, focusing their attention on other projects they thought to be of a higher priority.
Few films deliver an emotional wallop like "Aftersun" does. This story of a pre-teen girl (Frankie Corio) on vacation with her young, troubled father (Paul Mescal) captures moments of seemingly mundane reality that gradually reveals the devastation always lurking beneath the surface in such a deft fashion that this being Wells' first film is honestly astounding. That kind of confidence in trusting your audience usually only comes with a wealth of experience. Mescal delivers a performance filled with tremendous internal pain that he only lets us see in bits and bobs, and as someone generally averse to child actors, Corio is every bit Mescal's equal in this.
These are the kinds of movies that you would hope awards success translates into more people watching it, and in terms of critics awards, it has done very well, but the average person probably needs some Oscars recognition for it to make it on their radar. Whatever the reason ends up being, I hope more people experience "Aftersun."
Well, this one generated some DISCOURSE. "Bros" was notable that it was the first gay romantic comedy released wide by a major studio, and it absolutely tanked, grossing under $15 million worldwide. There was a whole lot of finger pointing as to why people didn't show up at the theater. Of course, there isn't one singular reason it failed, and it's silly to think so.
What I can say is that it didn't fail because it wasn't any good. On the contrary, "Bros" is a very funny movie. Co-writer and star Billy Eichner understands so well what makes him a compelling, funny screen presence and has the wherewithal to maximize his nervy, chaotic energy in ways you wouldn't necessarily expect. He has tremendous chemistry with his co-star Luke Macfarlane, which I consider to be one of the breakout performances of the year.
"Bros" isn't perfect by any means. It's too long, and they don't handle some of the romantic comedy tropes, like the obligatory end of second act breakup, in a particularly unique way. However, the goal of "Bros" was to be a funny, pleasing couple of hours at the theater that takes one of the most heteronormative genres in Hollywood and upends it. On those levels, Nicholas Stoller's film absolutely succeeds. Studio romantic comedies always find a way of lasting for a long time, so I have no doubt that "Bros" will find its audience in time.
Crimes Of The Future
Whenever a new David Cronenberg film comes out, it should be an event. This is even more true when he is returning with something that harkens back to his body horror roots, as there is no one out there who does it better. Because of a theatergoing landscape where horror is one of the few genres that consistently gets folks to leave their houses, "Crimes of the Future" was set up for success. But that didn't happen here. Unfortunately, Cronenberg's latest only managed a $4.5 million worldwide gross on its $27 million budget when it was released back in June in a semi-wide release.
This tale of a future where the human body develops new organs to evolve with an ever-increasing synthetic world is a strangely beautiful rendering of artists continuing to find ways to innovate within their medium. In this case, Viggo Mortensen and Léa Seydoux play performance artists whose chosen field is live surgery, which has become a spectacle of fascination, beauty, and even eroticism for people. The latter is particularly true for Kristen Stewart's character, finding her head absolutely rattled with how surgery turns her on; she gives one of the funniest performances of the year (if not the funniest).
David Cronenberg is in his late 70s, and after nearly a decade of not making a film, he hasn't lost his fastball in the slightest. The man is still a master at provocation and gore without them being used simply for their own sake. "Crimes of the Future" features much of the elegance and melancholy you find in many late period works of filmmakers, but because it's Cronenberg, his version of that features organ removal.
It makes me incredibly sad that the name Steven Spielberg no longer is enough to get scores of people lined up around the block to see his new film, particularly when the film is about the most successful film director of all time. It also makes me sad because "The Fabelmans" is my favorite film of 2022, and I want to be able to share in that joy with so many more people than I am able to.
In a time where so many filmmakers are looking back at their lives and reinterpreting their past experiences for the big screen, from Kenneth Branagh to Alfonso Cuarón, the most successful of these is easily "The Fabelmans" because it is the only one of these movies actually interested in telling the story of its main character and not simply seeing a story of other people's lives through their eyes. In another filmmaker's hands, this would have been the tale of dissolving marriage of Mitzi and Burt Fabelman (Michelle WIlliams and Paul Dano), but instead, this is firmly a coming of age story for Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle), examining his passions, his relationships, and everything that makes a high school-aged kid fascinating and frustrating.
Refreshingly, this is a movie about movies that isn't wrapped up in the wide-eyed wondrous experience of watching a movie. Instead, it is about the therapeutic process of creation. Roger Ebert once described a movie as "a machine that generates empathy," and while he was talking about it from the audience's perspective, "The Fabelmans" takes that approach from behind the camera. Even after 50 years in the business, Steven Spielberg continues to surprise us and prove why he is arguably the greatest living filmmaker we have.
In hindsight, it's a little odd that many of us thought "The Northman" had the possibility of being Robert Eggers' crossover into the mainstream. Eggers is one of the most idiosyncratic American filmmakers to come around in a good long while, and his brand of brutal, austere, period-specific genre fare doesn't exactly have its pulse on what is cool and hip. He doesn't make movies that wink at the camera, feature pop culture references, or traffic in any sort of self-referential humor, and the vast majority of the massive spectacle flicks that hit the cinemas in recent years need those to succeed.
"The Northman" is a $90 million Viking epic that is as weighty as the metal weaponry the characters have to find the strength to wield. I think we assumed that because the film is ostensibly an action picture that it would connect on a wider scale, but the action here has none of the zip or finesse commonly found in our blockbusters. Eggers depicts raids, fights, and battles as awkward, lumbering messes of mud and blood. Violence in "The Northman" isn't something to be cheered.
In the end, the film couldn't cross the $70 million mark worldwide, which will inevitably send Robert Eggers back to a more manageable budget level for future projects. At least I can be happy that he was given this opportunity to make something big and expensive, because the end result is a truly terrific film. "The Northman" may not be to everyone's tastes, but those able to get on its wavelength are in for some visceral, impressive cinema by one of the medium's rising stars.
I am not under the assumption that a film not in English is going to be a box office smash hit. Those instances come along very rarely. But international films still can find a small, loyal audience in the art houses, particularly when they star some of the biggest names from around the world. In this case, those names are Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas, who headline, along with Oscar Martínez, the filmmaking satire "Official Competition."
The film took in under $600,000 at the domestic box office over the summer. For comparison, recent non-English language films starring Cruz like "Parallel Mothers" and "Everbody Knows," which co-starred Javier Bardem, were both able to cross $2 million, and the Banderas-starring "Pain and Glory" even crossed $4.5 million. Yes, these are all films from more well-known filmmakers too, Pedro Almodóvar and Jacques Audiard, but considering the cast and subject matter, "Official Competition" should have found an audience. It didn't even find a sizable one in Spain, where it couldn't cross $800,000.
I know when I saw the film in a completely empty theater that I had an absolute blast. This is a case of packing three tremendous actors into a room to play some completely outrageous send-ups of showbiz archetypes and letting them bounce off each other in increasingly hilarious ways. In particular, a scene involving the rehearsal of a kiss had me in tears for just how far they push it. It would have been swell to laugh along with a group of other people, but it looks like it wasn't just my cinema that was empty.
Last summer, we had a really good horror film with an unreal central performance from Rebecca Hall called "The Night House." It made over $7 million at the domestic box office. This summer, we had a really good horror film with an unreal central performance from Rebecca Hall called "Resurrection." It made $160,000 at the domestic box office. Yes, Searchlight Pictures does have a better track record at the box office than IFC Films, but the disparity between these two pictures remains disheartening.
Ever since I saw it back at Sundance, I have not been able to shake off the raw, haunting power of "Resurrection," in which Hall stars as a woman whose abusive and manipulative ex (Tim Roth) resurfaces in her life many years later. Andrew Semans' sophomore feature is packed to the brim with psychological terror but never finds itself operating in an over-the-top, gratuitous manner. Hall continues to prove why she is one of the most talented actors of her generation and should command the same wide-ranging respect as her peers. There is a one-take, several minute long monologue she delivers in the middle of this film that will put your jaw on the floor.
Plenty of horror films, from "Smile" to "Barbarian" to Ti West's one-two punch of "X" and "Pearl," were able to find a significant audience, and "Resurrection" deserved to be among those ranks. It may not deliver the fun those movies do, but that isn't its goal. "Resurrection" simply wants to burrow into your head and mess you up, and it more than succeeds.
Admittedly, I am a bit of a mark for movies about journalists. I find the process of research and interviews to uncover information to be inherently dramatic and captivating to watch. They are films about people who are excellent at their jobs, have clearly defined goals, and are able to execute them with skill. "She Said," which tells the story of New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey breaking the story of the many, many abuses of power by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, is another worthy entry into the genre.
Unfortunately, this story about systemic workplace sexual abuse — something that affects countless people, particularly women, every day — was not something people wanted to show up for. Universal decided to take a chance and release "She Said" wide in its first weekend, which is a bit unusual for an adult drama like this, and it completely backfired, making just $2.2 million on over 2,000 screens. In total, it's only made a bit over $10 million worldwide, which is not want you want to see with a $32 million budget.
"She Said" isn't a top-tier drama. Some of the film is a little clunky and a bit self-satisfied, and I still don't know how I feel about the choice for some real people to play themselves. That being said, Maria Schrader's picture still finds exciting ways to tell this story you wouldn't expect even if you are incredibly familiar with the real life story. Its depictions of working mothers and postpartum depression, in particular, provide a great amount of detail and specificity to this story that we don't see in other journalist pictures. "She Said" isn't just some "eat your vegetables" film and should be seen.
Look, I bemoan the fact that Disney has a stranglehold on the cinematic marketplace. The only time it doesn't bother me is when I see a new film from Walt Disney Animation Studios. This is their homegrown brand and the reason for the company's longevity. Ironically, the latest picture from that particular section of the House of Mouse, "Strange World," was an outright bomb. Not only is that surprising because of how Disney has consumed everyone's lives, but the movie is also quite good.
I shouldn't be too surprised, considering their output always fares better financially when it exists more in the princess and musical realms than the action-adventure ones, but a Disney disaster still shocks. "Strange World" is a pulp science-fiction throwback that ends up being one of the most potent allegories about consumption and climate change that a mainstream Hollywood film could possibly deliver. It's effortlessly diverse, never patting itself on the back for having principal characters who are queer or people of color. Plus, it's just fun. After all, it's an adventure flick that takes place in a colorful, creative landscape. Yes, some of its themes of family are extremely familiar, but because it is trafficking in homage, I'm okay with it remixing classic themes you would find in these kinds of stories.
To be fair, I prefer Disney Animation when they do the musicals and princess stories too, but that doesn't mean you should throw everything else out or wait for it to be on Disney+, which has really warped how people perceive their family-friendly media. "Strange World" is a good time, and I wish I wasn't the only person in the theater when I saw it.
"The Fabelmans" may be my favorite film of the year, but a close second would be Todd Field's return to directing after 16 years, "TÁR." While the film has certainly found a home on Film Twitter with memes about whether or not Lydia Tár was a real person, the film itself wasn't exactly a smash hit at the cinemas, making around $5 million domestically. This may be a character study at its core, but that doesn't mean Field isn't interested in the visual spectacle of "TÁR." Nothing could be further from the truth.
So many movies have chosen a 2.39:1 aspect ratio in the last several years as a way to distance themselves from television, but "TÁR" is one of the few that actually knows how to frame shots within that extremely wide frame. And I'm not even talking about scenes like the bravura one-take sequence set in a Juilliard class where Blanchett's Lydia is guest teaching. I'm think of simple things like a shot of her seated on a couch in her office, slightly leaning to one side with her legs crossed, which could not be more perfectly suited to the aspect ratio, and when Field has someone appear quite small in the frame, the negative space around them is always interesting, even if it isn't used to contain shadowy figures.
In every respect, "TÁR" is a big screen movie and should have been seen that way. People are too quick to think that if something isn't a big action spectacle, a film's visual power isn't as important, and are thereby perfectly content to watch it at home. If you need the perfect refutation of that ideology, look no further than Todd Field's latest.
Don't take another 16 years, Todd!
Three Thousand Years Of Longing
August 2022 was a really weird time for movies. For some strange reason, the studios just decided they weren't going to release anything notable that month. Granted, August is usually far from the biggest month of the year, but there's a difference between a dip and a crater. However, one pretty big movie did come out during that month when people decided to stop going to the movies, and that was George Miller's latest extravaganza "Three Thousand Years of Longing," which only managed a worldwide box office haul of about $19 million. Considering his last film was "Mad Max: Fury Road" and this one cost about $60 million, Miller's fantastical romance was quite a disappointment.
Financially, anyway. Creatively, this is one of the most stirring pictures of the year. Miller's swirling camera isn't just perfectly suited for capturing cars speeding through the desert. It is just as adept at tenderly capturing the stories of love and desire that Idris Elba's Djinn imparts to Tilda Swinton's narratologist after she releases him from a bottle. "Three Thousand Years of Longing" is about as openly earnest and unabashedly romantic a film as you can get, and while that may not be en vogue in the modern cinematic landscape, that is something that will always hit home with me and will help Miller's picture last for many years to come. It is the kind of big swing from a director I hope to see every time I go to the theater. It's pure cinema that demands the biggest screen imaginable, and everyone slept on it.
For me, going to the movies is one of the great joys in life, and my hope is that in 2023 more people will recognize that within themselves, too.
Read this next: The Best Movies Of 2022 So Far
The post The 2022 Box Office Disappointments We Loved appeared first on /Film.